By Emma Kirst
Who doesn’t want to change the world? I have always been told that I would have the opportunity to change the world eventually. Even at 16, the prospect of “eventually” bored me. Why did I have to wait to make a difference? I wanted to make a change now as I saw no better time to help a cause I was passionate about.
I love traveling more than anything else. Nothing matches the excitement of discovering a country — its culture, its history, its people. This is particularly true when visiting developing countries, which are rich in culture and history but are not wealthy. For instance, when you visit these countries, you notice a lot of craftswomen by the roadside selling these gorgeous earrings, bracelets, and other traditional crafts. Even though they’re high quality, they don’t make many sales and when they do, they receive very little for their beautiful work. This is not just an isolated case.
In these nations, women are impoverished and struggle to support their families. Although women account for 70% of the world’s working hours, they earn only 10% of the world’s income. Furthermore, when women control more household income—either through their own earnings or through cash transfers—children benefit as a result of more spending on food and education.
What’s so powerful about this idea and why it can change the world is the proven effects on developing economies. When more women work, economies grow. If women are paid, and employment rates were raised to the same level as men’s, per capita income countrywide would rise by 14% in 2020 and 20% in 2030.
Reading these statistics and remembering the craftswomen in my travels, I wanted to find a way to change their lives, which would then result in the positive change of many more. The key was to find a way for them to have a larger market where they also could receive higher prices for their goods creating wealth and prosperity for their families and by extension their broader communities.
Looking to purchase their crafts to further support them, I turned to the Internet. All I found were websites that resold the crafts to make money for the websites themselves. There was no fair return for the female artisans. Some ambiguously promised that the women were paid a “fair price” for their goods. But in most if not all cases, the benefits were so small that they never improved the craftswoman’s situation.
Additionally, with these websites simply serving as a reseller, it meant that the craftswomen are never given the opportunity to learn business fundamentals and are effectively forced into permanent dependency on the website. The results are often these websites had the goal of making money with great margins for their benefit rather than rewarding and empowering the artisans and their families.
In attempt to change this unfair and destructive business cycle, I founded the company ArtiSuns with a few friends (Armando Martinez, Adarsh Rachmale, and Rahul Rathi). We are a diverse group, coming from all around the world with countries like India, Venezuela, Belgium and the United States. The company originated from our participation in a program at the Massachusetts Institute for Technology called Launch. Launch is a truly unique opportunity for a few high-schoolers who are given a 4 week course, introduction to business entrepreneurs and mentors as well as potential investors in the development of start-up companies.
Our aim is to empower women by selling their goods on our website which is designed to return most of the money collected back to the female artisans. But we don’t just stop there. To help these women continue to prosper, we teach them basic business principles to execute their businesses and better their financial standing in the long term. In a lot of developing countries, it’s common to see businesses who sell the goods artisans make to websites to make a profit without giving any money back to the artisan.
But our model is designed to eliminate this unfairness by working and advising directly with the artisan. They now have the opportunity to receive a real wage based on their work by eliminating the middle layers which only took away revenue without any added benefits. Our business aims to create a platform for these women to increase not only their wealth but also their standing in the community. Successful women-owned businesses as the statistics show bring enormous benefits, including receiving the respect they deserve.
Our company also promotes direct communication between the individual artisans and the customer of their goods. Customers are given the opportunity to engage with the artisan about their products, businesses or even about their communities. This unique capability will bring education for the artisans and the customers of both developing and developed countries.
For instance, if you find an artisan you really connect with, you can subscribe to them, and we’ll send you one of their crafts every month. Such a subscription makes a tremendous difference as it gives the artisan a dependable income, so they don’t need to worry if they’ll make enough money tomorrow. It also allows the artisans to re-invest in their businesses and expand, thereby employing additional people and widening the benefits to the greater community.
We already have 10 artisans (in Venezuela & India) who have signed on and are excited about the prospect of our idea and how it can improve their everyday lives.
However, our idea requires a significant amount of funding to launch so we’re currently running an Indiegogo campaign to raise money as startup capital for our idea. We would greatly appreciate any contributions and in return we will provide you with either some jewelry from Venezuelan craftswomen, or cool company apparel.
These women have the ability to change their communities. Even as a group of teenagers, we hope that we can be the ones to help them reach that goal. That is our crazy dream.
Emma Kirst is a 16 year old Swedish-American living in Belgium. She has always been interested in entrepreneurship, and is constantly looking to learn more about it, having taken courses at MIT, Northwestern and Brown. Emma is deeply passionate about women’s empowerment, having worked extensively with Greenlight For Girls, an organization that promotes careers in science to girls. You can connect with Emma and find out more about Artisuns here: